WAR OF THE WORLDS

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


                It’s E.T. without the sweetness – or maybe that’s wrong.  Maybe it’s just that Steven Spielberg has taken all the sweetness he used to fashion E.T. and poured it into Tom Cruise.  You certainly won’t fall in love with any of the outsiders in “War of the Worlds.” But earthlings Ray (Tom Cruise) and his daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning) occupy the screen nearly full time in a growing closeness that is a warm Spielbergian bit of tenderheartedness.  This particular Tom Cruise is a lovable guy.

He has his hands full.  The world as we know it is endangered by an alien force of superior intelligence.  In one of the more intriguing ideas from the H.G. Wells novel, that force has been planning the attack on earth for a million years.  Before life existed here, they planted tripod robots deep under the earth’s surface.  How will they utilize them?  By beaming themselves down on lightning bolts.  Connection made.  Tripods armed with periscopes and cameras slither, snakelike, to find their prey.  Creatures at the controls vaporize humans, leaving empty clothes flying around the screen.  Like big mosquitoes, they suck blood from people and spew it back out mixed with their own life fluids until the earth is covered with blood red veins for sustenance – fuel for the masters.   

                You might want to prepare yourself by considering the theory that humans have evolved along with the biology of the earth.  What role does immunity play?  How would a human fare on Mars?  Spielberg doesn’t explain his theory adequately in the movie – or perhaps he just assumes our superior intelligence.  To accompany all this fear, John Williams score goes effectively silent for much of the movie and then floods the theater with a sudden roar of sound.   

This is a horror movie whose ugly imagery has a real life edge, especially for kids.  Who among them – or us - hasn’t wondered what would happen in the event of even a man-made attack?  Well, it’s all here.  A crowd of desperate citizens crawls over Ray’s car, hijacking it for their own escape.  A ferryboat summons full power to rush from a dock with terrified citizens clinging to its ramp.   Roads are jammed.  “This isn’t a war, it’s an extermination,” a crazy old man (Tim Robbins) says in a moment of clarity.  Skyscrapers fall.  Too familiar, too possible. 

The uncomfortable message:  when one person is in trouble, the citizenry will go to all lengths to help.  When the whole citizenry is threatened, not one person thinks of anyone but himself.  The audience is sustained, I suppose, by the possibility that if the two people we care about survive, hey, that might just be us in real life.  Maybe we’ll make it when it comes.  Lessons in panic for the young by Steven Spielberg.  I think of my young nephew who, on a recent trip to the Empire State Building, kept asking, “Are the planes coming?  Are the planes coming?”

 


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